California’s Distributed Energy Grid Plans: The Next Steps

By Jeff St. John, Greentech Media

Last week, after a year of behind-the-scenes work and much public debate, California’s big three investor-owned utilities turned in their long-awaited distribution resource plans (DRPs). These DRPs are essentially blueprints for how Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric are going to merge rooftop solar, behind-the-meter energy storage, plug-in electric vehicles and other distributed energy resources (DERs) into their day-to-day grid operations and long-range distribution grid planning and investment regimes.

Each California utility has created mapping tools that show how much capacity is available on each distribution circuit for new DER interconnection, for instance — something that could be very useful for distributed energy developers. All three utilities have also agreed on a common set of measures for how DERs could help shore up grid capacity, increase reliability, serve system-wide needs, and otherwise stand in for costly utility upgrades. And each has laid out how it plans to fold these DRP methodologies into their general rate cases (GRCs), the once-every-three-years process that determines how much each can charge its customers for its capital and operating costs for the coming years.

Many questions remain about how to determine which combination of DERs will meet the least-cost models that utilities use to rank their distribution grid upgrades, and what kinds of new capabilities grid-supporting DERs will need to have to serve as replacements for utility investments. There’s also much uncertainty about how DERs serving as stand-ins for grid infrastructure should be paid for, and how their costs and benefits should be shared. These issues are of major interest for solar-storage combinations from SolarCity and Tesla, SunEdison and Green Charge Networks, Sungevity and Sonnenbatterie, and SunPower and partners Stem and Sunverge, which see an opportunity for earning grid services revenues as stand-ins for distribution grid investments. They’re also important for the commercial building and residential energy management platform providers looking for ways to tap California’s emerging opportunities for distributed demand response.

These costs and values wouldn’t just flow from utilities and their customers to DER providers—each utility’s DRP asks the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for permission to spend lots of money on beefing up their own systems to enable their visions. Southern California Edison alone is estimating its DRP-related capital expenditures could add up to $347 million to $560 million over the next three years, for example, and PG&E and SDG&E will also be seeking new funding, though they haven’t yet specified how much.

All three DRPs add up to nearly 1,000 pages, which makes it hard to summarize all the next steps they contain, but here are a few highlights of the challenges to come.

Read full article from Greentech Media

Related articles: How California’s biggest utilities plan to integrate distributed resources (Utility Dive)

Comments are closed.

Post Navigation